Clemson Football: ACC/PAC-12 merger is not a good idea

Dec 3, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Clemson Tigers cheerleaders run on to the field at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 3, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Clemson Tigers cheerleaders run on to the field at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

Clemson Football is between a rock and a hard place. As a member of the ACC, the Tigers are well behind their SEC and Big Ten peers in revenue from their conference. They would also have to pay a large buyout to leave the conference any time soon due to a long-term grant of rights deal that runs through 2036.

Like any institution in the ACC, Clemson would have to dig deep into their pockets to leave the ACC. There have been a few ideas bounced around by the press and on social media, but how seriously the conference or its constituents might be entertaining these options is anyone’s guess until they speak publicly on the matter.

The Big 12 and the Pac-12 are in a similar situation regarding revenue, but they don’t face the same issue with their grant of rights. The GORs for both conferences will be ending soon, which is why each has lost two members in the past year. If their members wanted to leave for the SEC or Big Ten, they could, but to date, neither conference has publicly extended an invitation beyond those offered to Texas, Oklahoma, USC and UCLA.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that these conferences are exploring all their possible options, such as this one which has been promoted on social media lately:

ACC traditionalists would be quick to trash the idea of a coast-to-coast conference. Some fans still complain that Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Boston College were ever invited to be part of the conference.

The reality is, however, that this is the direction that the Big Ten has chosen. When USC and UCLA join the Big Ten in 2024, the conference will span from Southern California to Rutgers and Maryland on the East Coast. The Big Ten will be a nationwide conference.

There is one critical difference, however: The Big Ten will have the brand recognition and marketing power to make that nationwide presence profitable for all of its members. A simple merger of the ACC and PAC-12 would not. Even if they add a couple markets like San Diego and Dallas, it wouldn’t elevate the marketability of the new conference to the level needed to make a difference.

The member list of an Atlantic-Pacific Athletic Conference would boast some marketable football schools: Clemson, Florida State, Miami, Oregon, Virginia Tech, and Washington, for example. In the short term, they would also have Deion Sanders at Colorado and some blue-blood basketball programs in Duke, North Carolina, and Arizona.

An ACC/PAC merger could benefit Clemson Football if it were just the strongest ten programs, but the balance of the members would lower the payout to each school, not improve it

The problem is that a merger would also bring the football teams from Duke and Arizona. It would bring entire programs like Boston College, California, Oregon State, Wake Forest, and Washington State. Those programs simply don’t add to the marketability of the conference. They aren’t attractive on the scale needed to split the pot twenty-four ways and make the payout satisfying to schools like Clemson, Florida State, and Oregon.

I am not one of those traditionalists that laments that the ACC ever expanded beyond nine teams. I have nothing against programs from the Big 12, PAC-12, or the less marketable programs from the ACC. If the Atlantic-Pacific Athletic Conference were to be able to provide Clemson with competitive revenue, I would be all for it.

The truth is that this idea is just a way for the people who run the conferences and their less marketable constituents to try to salvage some future that doesn’t involve them becoming Group of Five caliber conferences or disbanding altogether. It won’t satisfy the programs that have higher ambitions to remain competitive with the programs of the SEC and Big Ten.

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